5 Project-Based Learning Activities That Will Actively Engage Students

Marissa Alonzo | Published  January 05, 2018



STEM teaching across all grade levels can be a challenge when you're trying to increase student understanding while making sure your lessons are both engaging and demonstrate student comprehension of the lesson. 

Besides helping aid in student understanding, PBLs provide a real-world take on application of STEM principles. Spanning elementary through high school grade levels, project-based learning activities can be flexibly designed and utilized. Smart lessons, like those found in the STEMscopes suite, utilize project-based learning activities and ensure that they are properly aligned to grade level and standard while being a part of an activity continuum. 

Elementary school students can benefit from PBLs

Rock Out

Teaching science concepts to elementary-level students should be engaging and fun so the students' interest is captured. One example experiment is "Rock Out"— a small group exercise whose purpose is to assess student understanding of vibration in relation to sound. In this activity, students design and make instruments that produce a sound, then show their understanding of the instrument and how it works by contributing to a group "how-to" book, which includes illustrations of their instrument, and how the student made it create sound. This lesson is best used in a first-grade classroom setting. 

Domino Chain Reaction

This exercise for fourth grade classrooms is used to demonstrate comprehension of the basic principles of a chain reaction. Students do this by designing a domino chain reaction that includes eight different elements of their choosing. This hands-on experiment will not only give students an opportunity to apply their knowledge of science and engineering, but will also allow them to be creative in their designs. 

Middle school project-based learning activities

Roller Coaster Engineering

Like the Domino Chain Reaction project-based learning experiment used for fourth grade, this activity utilizes student creativity but starts with a real-world posed situation. The activity uses students' knowledge of energy transfer of motion. Students are asked to design a new roller coaster for the Roller Coasters Super Store. Students are told that the store is looking for a roller coaster that maximizes the change in energy of the motion. This project-based learning activity takes energy, motion, and reaction lessons and aligns it to a level of difficulty suitable for middle school physical science students. 

Using Weather to Predict Sales

Another middle-school level PBL that both engages students and initiates real-world scenarios is an activity where students use weather to predict sales for a store.  The exercise calls for students to decide when inventory for the store should be moved to other locations, based on predicted weather patterns. This experiment requires students to use the engineering design process and their knowledge of predicted weather patterns for a 3-5 day period. 

High school project-based learning activity

At the high school level, students should have a deeper understanding of science concepts and be able to interpret them in an advanced setting. The PBL "Nuclear Chemist Recruiters" is an exercise for physical science and challenges students to attract nuclear chemists away from a research university into industry. The activity asks that students develop a recruitment tool that shows information from each of the three departments associated with nuclear alpha, beta, and gamma. Students then gain and use knowledge of nuclear chemistry to discuss opportunities within the industry, represent each type of radiation as well as general and specific uses for each, and show examples of careers and their salaries and education requirements.

Project-based learning activities can help expand STEM education in a fun and engaging way that students will not forget. Find STEMscopes built to your state's standards  and unlock more PBLs that will transform the way your students experience science lessons. 



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